I have been to Peshawar once. I didn’t have a visa for the city but sneaked in because I was desperately keen to track the Taliban. The year was early 2001, just before 9/11 awakened the world to the horrors of global terror emanating from the Afpak region. I couldn’t quite get into the rugged wilds of the FATA territories but I did manage to meet a number of Taliban sympathisers in Peshawar who spoke of how the west had painted a false image of the Afghan regime and that the likes of Osama bin Laden were ‘victims’ of a western media campaign. We even went to a shop which was selling Osama posters (the shop also sold pictures of Hindi movie stars like Madhuri and Salman Khan). Clearly, Peshawar at the time was living in a dark and dangerous zone, the once playful land of Kipling and Dilip Kumar now a home for guns and radical Islam.
16th December 2014, hopefully, will change Peshawar forever. That the Tehreek-e-Taliban could strike at a school and indiscriminately shoot young children is the most glaring example of the utter madness of terrorism. A school is a sanctuary for our children; to turn it into a graveyard is to reveal the cowardice and desperation of the so called macho terror groups. A section of the Pakistan establishment has attempted to sell the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ Taliban line. Rubbish: there is nothing ‘good’ about those who rationalize violence. Imran Khan, the legendary Pakistan cricketer, still doesn’t directly name the Taliban in his public utterances. Sorry Mr Khan, I have lost respect for you: a politician who flirts with the merchants of terror deserves no support.
To those in my country who say Pakistan ‘deserved’ it, for god sake learn to make a distinction between state and civil society. No innocent Indian or Pakistani deserves to die: not on 26/11 not on 16/12. Yes, spurious distinctions between terrorists and freedom fighters must end, and yes, the Pakistan army needs to revisit its dual standards in sponsoring terror and fighting it at the same time, but let’s not use monumental tragedies to start a blame game.
As for those who call for jehad in the name of religion, please remember that those who died yesterday were innocent Muslim children. No religion sanctions this kind of bestial behaviour. To my friends in Pakistan I can only say: we grieve with you. Let this shared grief be an occasion to show solidarity and unity in the fight against terror. Mumbai one day, Peshawar the next: terror has new addresses almost every month and knows no geographical boundaries. This must become a joint war in which every Indian and Pakistani must stand together as one.